It was an overcast and misty morning when I arrived at 8am at the Taal Monument after a scenic drive through the Paarl Mountain Reserve. Fortunately it was not long before the sun broke through and the monument was looking picture perfect.
A monument to the Afrikaans language - this made me think about the beauty of the language and the culture associated it. My mother is Afrikaans so I have learned to appreciate a number of things: the Afrikaans soapies (Egoli and 7de Laan were part of our evening routine growing up); the wonderful arts festivals (Innibos, KKNK, Aardklop); Melktert and of course South Africa wouldn’t be the same without Ouma Rusks and Biltong. Apparently rusks and biltong were originated during the South African (Anglo Boer) War as it was a way for soldiers to carry dried bread and meat as provisions during long journeys.
The monument itself would be more suitably described as a sculpture. The fluid lines and curves are expertly moulded out of a monochrome material (concrete) that gives it a uniformity and elegance that surprised me. Because of the curvaceous form the ‘building’ comes across as welcoming, open and generous instead of cold, stark and rigid like many concrete structures I have experienced before.
The water feature at the heart of the tower has a calming and softening effect as the light reflects up onto the smooth walls and the gurgling sound creates a serene ambience. You emerge from the tunnel onto a large circular platform where there are three large mounds. Each element of the monument represents an important influence on the Afrikaans language (Europe, Asia and Africa) as well as two authors (C.J. Langenhoven and N.P. van Wyk Louw) who inspired the architect Jan van Wijk. These three mounds represent the African continent in the form of the three African languages that influenced Afrikaans: isiXhosa, isiZulu and seSotho.
You can then explore the adjacent garden where enormous granite boulders and gnarled old olive trees are found. These boulders compliment the sculpture beautifully in their form and colour.
The tall tower, which is so prominent from a distance, does not feel foreboding when you view it from up close. It is elegant and reminds me of the Tower of Babel – people with high ambitions, reaching up to the heavens. It is certainly far from the phallic, cold concrete monument I was expecting. In my opinion Jan van Wijk created a beautiful, site sensitive timeless sculpture and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting it.